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"Comments by Observers on Fighting in Burma" from Intelligence Bulletin, January 1944

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following report by British observers on the Japanese forces in Burma was originally printed in the January 1944 issue of the Intelligence Bulletin.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin publication. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



This section consists chiefly of comments by individual British officers on combat against the Japanese in the western Burma area. Since these comments are based on actual fighting experience in rugged jungle terrain, they should prove helpful to U.S. officers and enlisted men who will participate in jungle warfare. However, it must be borne in mind that the comments are not official British doctrine. The names of the British officers are omitted.


The following comments deal with various reactions of the Japanese during combat:

"Catch the Jap off guard and he is never ready to fight. When surprised, he literally goes into a panic, screams, and runs. Commence firing, and wipe out the enemy as soon as possible. However, once the Jap makes a stand, he is not a coward, but a courageous fighter.

"We consider the Jap a very bad marksman, particularly when he is moving. He is a better shot when well organized and static. However, his positions and camouflage are excellent."


"The Jap hates the British artillery, and is literally afraid of it. We found that we could easily make him jittery by fake attacks. Our troops would yell, stamp their feet, fire everything, lay a smoke screen, and, in general, make all the noise possible. As a result, the Jap would fire all arms, thus giving away all his positions.

"The word 'halt' should never be used. It is unnecessary, and its use often gives the enemy time to decide on a quick plan of action. Our soldiers should not be too trusting at night, and should not take too much for granted. They must treat every man as an enemy until he has proved himself.

"In many instances, the Japs learned the names of our units and used them frequently for 'pin-pointing' positions while patrolling at night. Anyone not able to give the password at night must be shot. The password should be changed every night.

"The Jap has difficulty in pronouncing the letter 'L,' so use passwords which have several L's. Patrols going out for several days should be given the password for each day until their return."


The following comments deal with various tactics used by the Japanese:

"The Japs seemed to prefer the 'circular tour' method of patrolling. Whether they were able to gather much information by this method is doubtful.

"As in all previous campaigns, the enemy has depended a great deal on infiltrations through our lines or movements around our flanks. If a flanking movement was started against him, he would reply by a wider movement of his own. He has a passion for high ground and thick cover.

"We should protect our lines of communication by holding the high points which would be a menace if held by the enemy. All roads are essential because of our extensive use of motor transport."


"The Japs usually slept during the day and moved at night. During the day, while they were in defensive positions, they rarely attempted to fire on any of our forces.

"The enemy forces often would throw lighted firecrackers 15 to 20 yards off to their side. Some of our less experienced soldiers fell for this ruse at first, and fired in the direction of the exploding firecrackers. The Japs, having determined our positions, would then fire on us from the flanks."


"Snipers are a part of the Japanese defensive system. They attacked our forward troops as the latter advanced ahead of large British forces. However, it is believed that the snipers' major mission is to collect information. We seldom heard of them firing on an individual soldier. Snipers sometimes took up positions near road blocks along lines of communication.

"About the only way to combat Jap snipers is to use stalker-snipers, who shoot the Japs as soon as they are located. The stalker-snipers nearly always work in pairs, making full use of camouflage. While moving, they must be completely under cover. If trails are unavailable, about the only way they can get about in the Burma jungle is along dry stream beds and gullies. The British are now trained to crawl (frequently on their stomachs) long distances if necessary... The stalker-snipers who move along the banks of dry stream beds and gullies communicate by word of mouth. Along these avenues of travel there are always places where the gullies and dry stream beds converge. Thus, the snipers can hold prearranged meetings under complete cover. When the snipers meet, they discuss the situation and make future plans."


A high-ranking British officer has outlined the following preparatory steps for combat against the Japanese:

"a. Training must be hard and realistic.

"b. Each man must be an expert with his weapon, and must be able to use every weapon.

"c. Every man must consider the jungle a friendly place, in which he can move, live, and fight with complete confidence.

"d. Every man must know, and be able to take advantage of, the Jap's weaknesses. He must realize that Jap successes thus far have been largely due to our own errors and omissions rather than to any inherent superiority of the Jap soldier.

"e. Every man must achieve absolute physical fitness—nothing less will do in jungle warfare. He must be able not only to march long distances, but to climb hills, overcome obstacles, and put up with grueling conditions of heat and thirst.

"f. Every man (especially officers and noncoms) must be able to move freely and confidently about the jungle, to stalk and hide, and to use his weapon under all conditions and in all positions.

"g. Every man must be able to move as freely, and with as much confidence, at night as during the day.

"h. Every man must have tenacity in defense, skill and boldness in the approach, and the will—as well as the skill—to close with the Jap and kill him in the attack.

"i. The value of communications must be fully realized.

"j. Cooperation between infantry and artillery must be fully and realistically practiced.

"k. Field artillery regiments and mountain batteries must be trained in jungle methods.

"l. Bad or indifferent leaders must be weeded out.

"m. Training must be carried out in real jungles and under conditions that are as realistic as possible. Man must be pitted against man, squad against squad, and platoon against platoon. Slit trenches must always be dug; concealment must be practiced at all times; sleep must be disturbed frequently; and minor and major exercises must last four or more days.

"n. We must cease to be road-bound and motor-transport minded.

"o. Greater use must be made of pack transportation. Local labor must be impressed as guides, porters, and interpreters.

"p. Half-trained replacements lacking jungle experience must not be sent to join units in the field.

"q. Greater use should be made of planes for dropping supplies and as ambulances."


"The only way you can defend a place in the Burma jungles is to attack. This should feature infiltrations—not mass frontal attacks against strongly defended positions. Keep the Japs guessing....

"The theory that if you hold the high ground you will win does not hold true in jungle warfare because the density of the lower jungle terrain obstructs observation. You must combine holding the high ground with holding the dry stream beds, gullies, and clefts in hills. Clefts in hills are the natural lines of travel and are more easily traversed than low jungle terrain. When all the important parts of the terrain cannot be held because of a lack of men, it is necessary to use offensive patrols."


"The use of camouflage in fighting the Jap is most important. Be sure that spoil from trenches is properly disposed of, that motor transport is well camouflaged during the day, and that each individual is properly camouflaged....

"Security precautions should be taken with regard to the natives. On several occasions we found ammunition and arms in baskets carried by coolies who had passed through our lines en route to rice fields.

"Arrangements must be made for dealing with refugees as well as with the natives. Neither should be permitted to approach our positions at any time. Very often natives will have to be evacuated from villages that we wish to occupy.... Officers and men must be careful not to allow Jap spies to enter camp disguised as natives offering their services. Often an illiterate-looking native may understand English very well, but not give you the slightest indication of the fact.

"We believe that the natives have done a lot of signaling at night by means of fires. They must have fires, of course, but we have noticed that sometimes these have been very large and have burned well into the night—unusual occurrences in the native villages. Reconnaissance planes flying overhead, or patrols from the hills, can easily gather information from fire signals."


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